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Architects Present Plan to Add Learning Commons to 5 Scarsdale Schools

greenacresfloorplanAfter months of anticipation, the new district engineers and architects, BBS, unveiled their plans for updates to all district facilities at a three hour meeting on Monday night May 22, 2017. The audience was largely from Greenacres, as the school had previously been the focus of discussion for the next bond offering. However, the administration sought to shift this dialogue to a conversation about equity and parity in the elementary school experience and to provide an assessment and propose update to all district buildings.

To that end, BBS toured all the buildings, spoke to the people who use them and said that they reviewed reports from the prior architects and engineers. The consensus was that all the district buildings have been well maintained and are in good shape. They identified issues that do need to be addressed and assigned priorities to them based on the immediacy of the need, with priority 1A given to those items that pose life/safety issues and are out of compliance with code. They found that 11.6% of the needs that should be addressed are priority 1A and 1B. The chart below indicates their findings. Many of the items are small and can be taken care of by the district.

The ventilation systems at all district schools were found to be out of compliance and fails to provide enough fresh air to the facilities. In some of the buildings the air handlers were disabled and in others they were not working properly. Other than assigning these items a priority the architects provided no data about air quality at any of the schools and indicated that they had not tested it but were told by the district that these tests had been done.

engineering

Their findings differed from a 2015 report from engineers that found that many of the building systems at Greenacres School had been extended beyond their useful life and needed to be replaced. For instance, the 2015 report found that all the sanitary piping was in poor condition, while BBS did not flag this system or many others for replacement.

About the sanitary piping, the 2015 report said, "useful lifeThe school did experience the collapse and failure of the main sewer pipe that exits the building a few years ago. This type of failure can be very disruptive and costly to repair in an emergency situation. Given the age of the building and the expected useful life of building materials and systems these types of failures are likely to continue. As a result the long term recommendation is to completely replace all of the original piping and plumbing systems that have not already been updated."

In addition, in 2015 KG&D and their engineers also cited poor ventilation but they claimed that upgrading the current units to provide enough fresh air to meet code was not feasible. The report says, "The amount of fresh air brought into the classrooms is far below current standards. If the same unit types were upgraded to provide the current code compliant amount of fresh air, the system would be quite loud and will have a big impact on noise levels making it difficult for students to hear an instructor. ... These requirements coupled with the age of the existing systems leads to the recommendation to complete replace the building's heating and ventilation system with a hot water system with energy recovery ventilation mechanical cooling and digital controls."

BBS provided a spatial analysis of all district building identifying "spatial conflicts" which they sought to solve by adding a learning commons with food service to four of the five elementary schools. These commons would include new kitchens so that lunch could be served at all elementary schools. At Heathcote, where an additional multi-purpose room is now being built, and there is already a separate auditorium and a gym, the architects proposed the addition of another learning commons with kitchen service to that room.

The audience seemed most perplexed about a proposal at the middle school to close the individual dining rooms in each of the four houses and build a large learning commons/cafeteria in the courtyard at the entry level.

For each of the schools, the architects provided rudimentary floor plans showing proposed additions, interior construction and upgrades to existing classrooms. No dimensions, renderings, elevations or design ideas were presented so it was difficult to know what an upgrade to a classroom might entail. Here is an outline of the proposed new construction:

At Edgewood, the architects proposed the addition of an instrumental music room and an expansion of the existing multi-purpose room so that it could accommodate half the student population for lunch. A new kitchen and toilet rooms would be added on.

At Fox Meadow, a learning commons, kitchen and toilets would be added to the lower level, facing out onto the field and surrounding the courtyard. Architects proposed that this space would have a separate entrance allowing it to be used for community events when school is not in session.

Greenacres would receive the most new space, with the architects proposing additions on both the Huntington Avenue and Putnam Road sides of the school, expanding the building's footprint closer to the roads on both sides.

On Huntington Avenue, the addition is similar to KG&D's option B1, with a two-story addition covering the gym and extending out toward Huntington Avenue. On the first floor that addition would include a learning commons, kitchen and bathrooms, and above that on the second floor there would be four fifth grade classrooms. The current fifth grade classrooms would be converted to an art room and several smaller spaces. Architects proposed moving the art room upstairs due to conditions in the basement and to integrate it into the floor plan of the rest of the school.

On the main floor of Greenacres, the footprint would be expanded out toward Putnam Road for three fourth grade classrooms. On the other side of the hallway there would be a computer room and maker space and three smaller rooms for small group instruction.

Architects said that the new portions of the school would be air conditioned but did not specify if there would be upgrades or replacement of the mechanical systems in the remaining portions of the building.

At Heathcote, a learning commons with kitchen will be added on to the new multi purpose room which is currently under construction at the school. Changes would be made to the office and entry to include security vestibules.

Quaker Ridge, which already has a dedicated cafeteria would not have any new construction, but the lower level music rooms would be reworked to include rooms for support services.

At the middle school the architects found that more rooms were needed for health and language classes and proposed that the individual dining rooms in each of the four houses be closed and converted to classrooms. Instead, students from all four houses and all three grades would eat in a large commons to be built in the courtyard behind the lower entrance to the school. In addition they proposed moving Choice, the middle school's alternative school, into three classrooms opposite the gyms. A security vestibule would be built at the bus entrance to the school and the retaining wall there would be rebuilt.

At the high school, the architects proposed adding architectural features that would make it easier to navigate around the large school and to reconfigure the offices and learning resource rooms.

Both the Board members and community had many questions for the architects. Lee Maude opened with a question about the air quality, asbestos and mold that was reported to be present at Greenacres. The architects replied that they did not observe asbestos or notice any order but they did see dehumidifiers present to mitigate moisture. About the air quality they said, "We understand you did air quality studies and they came up with acceptable results."

Nina Cannon asked a question about long term solutions to the humidity and was told that students would be removed from the lower level of the school and commercial dehumidification was needed. To a question about a space for language instruction, the architects said that one of the special education rooms could be used depending on the number of sections that were needed in fourth and fifth grades.

Art Rublin asked about the cost to build new structures vs. renovate the existing structure. The architect replied that a new building would be "2X the cost of the renovation." The architect added, "Can the body of the building and its bones do what you need to do? I think the existing building is wonderful and can be used. The lower level is the wrong space. We can make a monumental change to that building at half the expense of a new building."

Lee Maude questioned BBS about the size of the classrooms at Greenacres when compared to NYS model classroom sizes. The rudimentary sketches that the architects provided showed no square footage. The architects replied that Greenacres classrooms were not much smaller than classrooms at the other schools, though "some may be a bit smaller than the highest recommendations." They said, "we can get more efficiencies where we need to."

Rublin asked where the kids would be during construction and was told that new construction will be segregated from the existing space and that the kids would be in the building. The architect said, "All construction projects in schools are required to have testing of existing materials. Lead paint removal would be done in the summer." It was estimated that construction would take at least a couple of years including two full summers.

Scott Silberfein questioned the extension of the footprint of the building on both sides when the district had previously been told that the school was maxed out on the property. He asked, "Do we have the right information?" The architect responded, "We are proposing something that is justifiable at the state education department. I won't comment on previous architects. I think it is a justifiable addition."

Community members were also given the chance to comment:

Mary Beth Evans asked the Board to provide data on the investment the district has made in all buildings since 2000. They had provided one for the last ten years. She asked about the role of the building committees and educators. Had they contributed to the discussions with the architects? She questioned the educational vision behind the proposal,asking, "What is the educational philosophy and vision behind the plan? What's educationally appropriate? What about the house system at the middle school? What about 21st century learning, flexible spaces, the breakdown of classroom walks, fluid use of libraries? How does that vision align with the plans in the short and long term?" Referencing surveys that are to go out to parents at each of the schools she continued, "Will residents without kids in the schools have a chance to give input?"

Jennie Robinson from Dobbs Terrace said, "Is there an objective standard for classroom size per child? The classrooms at Greenacres are very small. 21st century classrooms are important. I urge the board to make sure about the class sizes we are talking about."

Ron Shulhof commented, "I did not hear anything about healthy and sustainable buildings.
I want to be sure that these ideas are considered and part of your presentations to the district."

Tony Corrigio of Brewster Road was concerned about keeping the children in the school during the renovation. He said, "I will have three kids in Greenacres during the proposed renovation. I am very concerned about the proposal. I thought we would have a full discussion and now we were told that that will cost 2X to build a new school and we're not addressing it. Are we looking at 20 years or 100 years? Greenacres needs the most work. Every wall in there has an inch of lead based paint. The work that will expose the kids. Can we have an independent inspector with the power to shut this down if we see an infraction? Forget the law – it's our kids! Let's see the new school and have a fulsome, thoughtful discussion on a new school vs. a renovation."

Mitch Kahn of Brewster Road said, "Does the new school estimate take into account all that has to be done at Greenacres? What about operating costs? Are there efficiencies over the next 10, 20, 50 years? The other architect did not say that a new school costs twice as much – this seems disingenuous."

Diane Greenwald of Oak Lane said, "(Tonight) I heard a lot of value to consistency across our district. Consisitency has never been a primary goal. Excellence and innovation has always been a value. We want to look at flexibility, collaboration, interdisciplinary opportunities, light and spaces that promote focus. I am concerned with considering what came before. As a member of the steering committee for the 2014 bond we did come up with priorities – we recommended that Greenacres be significantly understood in this bond. What about the facilities master plan that was done in 2014 – and how these priorities match up? This might help you determine district priorities. Also, the Heathcote School has unique architectural that needs to be specifically designed. It's a very specific site and cannot just be added on to. At the middle school I am concerned about the house system. Being 13 is hard and the hardest place it is to be a student is lunch. People who know students (in their houses) individually provide support. I hope some of those things are thought out."

Harriet Sobol added, "The Heathcote School is a national treasure; I hope if you do build a new school it will be of that quality. I would support a new school even though I am old."

Lynne Clark was brief, saying, "I thought I would hear whether we were going to consider a new school? Will we?"

Andrew Sereysky, who heads the Greenacres Neighborhood Association said this "caused a ripping apart of the community. I would urge the architect and the board to realize that we need to address renovation vs. new construction. Come to Greenacres – Greenacres is the focal point of what's going on. Come prepared to answer questions. Come to the school and make it easy for people to understand the basis of a decision. Open it up so everyone can understand it."

David Schwartz of Oakstwain Road said, "I was hoping to see more options and a cost benefit analysis of renovation vs. a new school for a longer term horizon... a proper financial analysis. We need a chart showing investment in the last 20 years – not the last 10 years. What will be the size of the new classrooms?"

Barbara Wenglin commented, "This feels like groundhog day. We have been at this for two years. I find it encouraging that the school is in good shape."

Michael Levine asked, "Your recommendations are not consistent with the recommendations of the previous architects? Why?"

Kyle Shirley of Donellan Road said, "Given the level of community involvement – I find it breathtaking that there was no information about a new school – and no financial proposal and no willingness to do it! This is a financially sophisticated community. Give us a reasonable, fleshed out, proposal."

Jon Krisbergh of Greenacres Avenue asked, "Why is this going to be less money than the B1 renovation we saw before?"

Lee Maude summed up and said, "Thematically things came back to the question of educational philosophy and equity and how we balance that. What is the concept of the learning commons that came from the administration and the architects? There is a desire to understand the costs and how we apportion that. I think there is a need to understand why we're not looking at an option for a new building at Greenacres. What led to tonight's presentation? We would also like to see the air quality reports."

The administration has set an aggressive timeline to come up with a plan for a December 2017 bond offering. Community forums with the architects are scheduled for the morning and evening of June 20th so that residents can ask questions about the proposed plans.

As they exited the auditorium on Monday night, many had concerns about the proposals. They felt that the materials that were presented were merely sketches and did not provide enough information to make any decisions. Without estimated costs they did not feel that they could weigh the merits of the plans and they also wanted to hear more about the educational rationale behind the addition of learning commons to five schools. Some called for a cost benefit analysis of the renovation versus a new school. The administration may have to provide more detailed plans, renderings, cost estimates and financing plans to get the community behind these ambitious facility plans.

Watch the meeting online here:

Comments   

-3 #51 GA Resident 2017-05-30 17:45
Quoting Blanca Diaz:
Really? Housing sales and prices have been going up almost everywhere in the US. Scarsdale 10583 has published several pieces this year that the Scarsdale market 'is hot.' Does anyone have data by neighborhood as to number of properties selling and at what price by neighborhood? How long are houses staying on the market before selling?

quote name="GA Resident"]Quoting Blanca Diaz:
Please, someone post numbers about what is going on in the Greenacres housing market. Joanne, you live in Greenacres. Please help bring truty and clarity to this debate.

Quoting Would be seller:
We have had 7 realtors come to my house in Greenacres. All said the same thing. Manhattan buyers are not looking in Greenacres. We were told to wait to list. I am just hoping that this will not have to be a 5 year wait.


Anecdotally, sales in Scarsdale are down across the board. I have friends in other neighborhoods struggling to sell houses. I think the market is soft right now.

Irregardless, I'm sure the on-going GA discussion has an impact. Uncertainty makes people uncomfortable. All things being equal, wouldn't you choose another neighborhood?

It's unfortunate but you can't make a long term decision based on what is happening in the short term to home values. This is really a short term problem. Once there is a clear plan and timeline, then people will be able to make informed decisions, and once the finish line is in sight, GA only stands to benefit by having either a new or updated school in it's neighborhood.

What's important now is to keep the pressure on the BOE to keep moving forward and develop a reasonable plan that the community can rally behind. If the plan isn't balanced, the bond will fail and we will be stuck in another period of uncertainty.


Depends on the price point. From what I gather talking to people, houses in the $1-$2MM range sell really fast and anything over $2MM is taking longer to sell.

Again, I'm sure GA is affected by the on-going school discussion. My point is only that long term decisions can't be made by what's happening short term. The Board and Administration need to put together a plan, quickly, so that the uncertainty is relieved and timeline is in place.
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+8 #50 Blanca Diaz 2017-05-30 09:23
Really? Housing sales and prices have been going up almost everywhere in the US. Scarsdale 10583 has published several pieces this year that the Scarsdale market 'is hot.' Does anyone have data by neighborhood as to number of properties selling and at what price by neighborhood? How long are houses staying on the market before selling?

quote name="GA Resident"]Quoting Blanca Diaz:
Please, someone post numbers about what is going on in the Greenacres housing market. Joanne, you live in Greenacres. Please help bring truty and clarity to this debate.

Quoting Would be seller:
We have had 7 realtors come to my house in Greenacres. All said the same thing. Manhattan buyers are not looking in Greenacres. We were told to wait to list. I am just hoping that this will not have to be a 5 year wait.


Anecdotally, sales in Scarsdale are down across the board. I have friends in other neighborhoods struggling to sell houses. I think the market is soft right now.

Irregardless, I'm sure the on-going GA discussion has an impact. Uncertainty makes people uncomfortable. All things being equal, wouldn't you choose another neighborhood?

It's unfortunate but you can't make a long term decision based on what is happening in the short term to home values. This is really a short term problem. Once there is a clear plan and timeline, then people will be able to make informed decisions, and once the finish line is in sight, GA only stands to benefit by having either a new or updated school in it's neighborhood.

What's important now is to keep the pressure on the BOE to keep moving forward and develop a reasonable plan that the community can rally behind. If the plan isn't balanced, the bond will fail and we will be stuck in another period of uncertainty.
Quote
-1 #49 GA Resident 2017-05-29 22:27
Quoting Blanca Diaz:
Please, someone post numbers about what is going on in the Greenacres housing market. Joanne, you live in Greenacres. Please help bring truty and clarity to this debate.

Quoting Would be seller:
We have had 7 realtors come to my house in Greenacres. All said the same thing. Manhattan buyers are not looking in Greenacres. We were told to wait to list. I am just hoping that this will not have to be a 5 year wait.


Anecdotally, sales in Scarsdale are down across the board. I have friends in other neighborhoods struggling to sell houses. I think the market is soft right now.

Irregardless, I'm sure the on-going GA discussion has an impact. Uncertainty makes people uncomfortable. All things being equal, wouldn't you choose another neighborhood?

It's unfortunate but you can't make a long term decision based on what is happening in the short term to home values. This is really a short term problem. Once there is a clear plan and timeline, then people will be able to make informed decisions, and once the finish line is in sight, GA only stands to benefit by having either a new or updated school in it's neighborhood.

What's important now is to keep the pressure on the BOE to keep moving forward and develop a reasonable plan that the community can rally behind. If the plan isn't balanced, the bond will fail and we will be stuck in another period of uncertainty.
Quote
+7 #48 Just say no 2017-05-29 21:08
There is absolutely no way that a bond will pass that spends $20+ million on cafeterias. It's our money. Let's make sure it is used wisely.
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+4 #47 Perplexed 2017-05-29 21:04
Is the drawing at the top of the article what was presented?!? Are we expecting innovation from someone that can't/ doesn't use a computer in 2017? What am I missing?
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+7 #46 Blanca Diaz 2017-05-29 20:26
Please, someone post numbers about what is going on in the Greenacres housing market. Joanne, you live in Greenacres. Please help bring truty and clarity to this debate.

Quoting Would be seller:
We have had 7 realtors come to my house in Greenacres. All said the same thing. Manhattan buyers are not looking in Greenacres. We were told to wait to list. I am just hoping that this will not have to be a 5 year wait.
Quote
+3 #45 GA Resident 2017-05-29 20:24
Quoting Stuck in time:
What's sad about this situation is that Scarsdale is flush with cash and borrowing costs are at all time lows, yet the lack of leadership and vision is preventing a multi-decade investment in this community (not just in Greenacres but throughout the district). Cafeterias (commons) are just wasted square footage. This is a rich community where if the cafeteria is sub-scale, it does not matter b/c parents will ensure their kids take a lunch or just cater the food (Greenacres already does this). Instead of hanging on to an antiquated building or a field, invest in technology, collaborative spaces, teachers, creative curriculum, etc. We are instead held hostage by an absurd problem of not being able to spend $30 million w/o angering somebody about their property value. Go see what they are doing in places like Newton, MA or Potomac, MD which they are really investing in the kids.


The idea that the town is "flush with cash" just doesn't ring true to me. I feel very well off and fortunate, but not necessarily flush with cash. I wish.

I think everyone needs to pay careful attention to the Administration' s capital plans and funding sources.

We all know that a material component to affordability of a house is the real estate taxes. First time home buyers (many looking in GA where houses are comparatively reasonable) are especially sensitive to this.

If the Administration expects multiple bond issues over the next 10-15 years, say to build new schools or make really expensive improvements, what will the impact be on taxes and how will that effect our home values? That is a longer term issue than a couple of years of construction in the GA neighborhood. Maybe there is a reasonable way to get it done, but it has to be studied carefully and the idea that there is a blank checkbook is fantasy.

There just needs to be a balance. We need to invest in our schools. No doubt. We also need to make sure we can pay top dollar for teachers, have the right technology and a cutting edge curriculum all without a material increase in taxes. Westchester (and Scarsdale) are already burdened by some of the highest taxes in the NYC metro. How many people do you know that chose to move to move to NJ or CT or LI because they couldn't bear the tax load here? I know many. At some point there is a breaking point even for those that live here and the demand for this town will go down if the tax burden gets too high.
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0 #44 GA Resident 2017-05-29 20:01
Quoting Stuck in time:
What's sad about this situation is that Scarsdale is flush with cash and borrowing costs are at all time lows, yet the lack of leadership and vision is preventing a multi-decade investment in this community (not just in Greenacres but throughout the district). Cafeterias (commons) are just wasted square footage. This is a rich community where if the cafeteria is sub-scale, it does not matter b/c parents will ensure their kids take a lunch or just cater the food (Greenacres already does this). Instead of hanging on to an antiquated building or a field, invest in technology, collaborative spaces, teachers, creative curriculum, etc. We are instead held hostage by an absurd problem of not being able to spend $30 million w/o angering somebody about their property value. Go see what they are doing in places like Newton, MA or Potomac, MD which they are really investing in the kids.


These are great questions for the architects and the Administration during the public forums. How will the Commons enhance the educational experience? This has not been fully explained but I'm guessing that the idea is that the Commons doubles as a collaborative work area for students.
It also frees up the existing mutli-purpose rooms as additional collaborative space. Again, this is only a guess and the Administration will have to make the case that this is an enhancement. I doubt that BBS pulled this concept out of thin air. I would suspect they have seen this in other Districts and that they were well received. Part of the the Administration' s due diligence will have to be to tour those spaces and get feedback.

Again, there is this rush to judgment without giving anyone the chance to properly explain their reasoning or defend their ideas.
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-1 #43 Stuck in time 2017-05-29 16:49
What's sad about this situation is that Scarsdale is flush with cash and borrowing costs are at all time lows, yet the lack of leadership and vision is preventing a multi-decade investment in this community (not just in Greenacres but throughout the district). Cafeterias (commons) are just wasted square footage. This is a rich community where if the cafeteria is sub-scale, it does not matter b/c parents will ensure their kids take a lunch or just cater the food (Greenacres already does this). Instead of hanging on to an antiquated building or a field, invest in technology, collaborative spaces, teachers, creative curriculum, etc. We are instead held hostage by an absurd problem of not being able to spend $30 million w/o angering somebody about their property value. Go see what they are doing in places like Newton, MA or Potomac, MD which they are really investing in the kids.
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+14 #42 Bond vote 2017-05-29 15:09
I will not vote for an overly expensive cafeteria project. On Greenacres, I can't tell without more information.
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